It's that time of year when people really start whining — about the season, the weather, the dark, the temperature or post-holiday depression. The closest I've come to any sort of resolution, though, is to try to embrace all that the darkness has given (or taken away). Somehow, embracing the dark seems to hold more promise than denying it or wishing for something different from what life is currently presenting to us. What elements of darkness can I now embrace?
Let's start with post-holiday depression. Have we ever tried to simply live in that dark spot, once the glittery moments of lights and Santa and sweets and presents fade and we're left with … only the memories? Can we actually embrace that space so that we know it rather than trying to distract ourselves by, say, shopping while eyeing all those products that we just paid full price for but that are now 50 percent off? Or by swearing off all those sweets that gave us great pleasure only a week or two before but that now mostly make us feel slovenly and fat? Funny what a few days can do.
Family is another potentially dark area to embrace. People with small children won't relish the post-holidays, when toys break, Santa's gone for an entire year and the "Don't be bad or Santa won't bring you toys" threat stops working so well. But as the kids get older, holiday schedules become less reliable. Increasingly, outside activities involving friends, boyfriends and spouses tend to pre-empt family time.
Meanwhile, thanks to marriages and branched-out in-law relationships, some of us must now "trade" adult children year to year. And that creates the pressure to make everything so darned fun that they'll want to come back next year (or the year after). More likely, however, these new family "pods" will be bored with the simplicity of the traditional family gathering and instead fashion other plans — including early departure. Once children become adults, bring in new members and establish their own lives, their concepts of mom and dad and family time may alter radically. Embrace this? I'm trying …
There are also, of course, all the family members whose schedules we weren't able to accommodate, or who snubbed our vegetarian fare, or who waxed nostalgic about how much fun Christmas used to be …
Other reasons for embracing the dark? How about beloved pets in whom we can see old age and physical degeneration setting in? My Bob and June, felines of my life, are aging, like me (can it indeed be so?!). June's once round, plump figure now droops: I can see her spine when she walks, and her eyes' youthful sheen has dulled. Bob, once black as pitch, is now sprouting gray hairs here and there — I wonder if he notices.
And then there's New Year's and all the promises we make to ourselves that we can't possibly keep: getting thin and fit, drinking less, being of service more. We set ourselves up to be disappointed yet again. But can we embrace those dark moments that spotlight our weaknesses, rather than creating still more fairy tales to ease our consciences and give us false hope?
Birthdays, too, will come again, finding us another year older and facing unwelcome physical change. There's my newest knee problem, plus some other aches, pains and physical shortcomings that weren't there a year or two ago. And there's always that nagging question that seems to hit harder during the shorter days: What am I doing with my life? Coming up with a good answer seems less likely than continuing to stew about our shortcomings and other things that make us unhappy. Yet we pray that the new year will miraculously take us out of the slump of work and mundane living.
Finally, there are those who are no longer with us, whose absence is somehow accentuated during the holiday season. As if life weren't dark enough, we must face the prospect of living through yet another year without them.
Add to my own list of "the dark to embrace" a busted DVD player, water damage in the basement from all the snowmelt, the approaching tax season …
Some may justifiably wonder not just how we could possibly embrace all this darkness but why we would even want to. Instead of trying to find an answer to "How?" or "Why?" however, I prefer to counter with "Why not?" It's easier, no doubt, to distract ourselves with sales and holiday movies and schedule changes. But where does all this distraction leave us? Trying to escape from, rather than draw closer to, that dark space and, thus, living life as some sort of extended illusion. By their very nature, illusions last only so long, and isn't there a pithy saying about "building character"?
Perhaps this is mostly just my personal philosophy. Maybe it's sort of Buddhist, the idea that life is transitory and that we needn't shy away from that reality and all that it implies. But I'm going to try to just be with these dark times, give my "character" a chance to be strengthened, until the world and my life start to tell me that the days contain more light, that temperatures are climbing, that the holiday hubbub is just a distant memory, that there's hope for our offspring and that light is, indeed, returning. Then I'll turn toward it and embrace it … until darkness sets in once again.
Asheville resident Virginia Bower teaches writing and ESL at Mars Hill College.
Can we embrace those dark moments that spotlight our weaknesses, rather than creating still more fairy tales to ease our consciences and give us false hope?